Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Personal Politics

Political Compass

At long last, here is my promised and probably not-so-highly anticipated tangent on politics. It's likely to be long, and for that I apologize. I offer it in part simply to make sense of the whole mess in my own mind, and also just to provide some perspective and hopefully encourage readers to challenge (not necessarily to change) their own views.

The link above leads you to an online quiz that attempts to determine your place on the political spectrum. I have some question about the validity and wording of some of the questions, but at the very least it serves as a useful tool for stimulating some discussion.

Here are my results. My scores place me pretty solidly in the Libertarian Left, along with such notable names as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama. Being that solidly on the left side of the chart brands me as a "liberal," a label I've tried to deny due to the often negative connotation that goes along with it. However I suppose it's time to embrace it and move on.
What do our opponents mean when they apply to us the label "Liberal?" If by "Liberal" they mean, as they want people to believe, someone who is soft in his policies abroad, who is against local government, and who is unconcerned with the taxpayer's dollar, then the record of this party and its members demonstrate that we are not that kind of "Liberal." But if by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."
--John F. Kennedy, September 14, 1960 (Text of entire speech)
I must admit, I'm not an enthusiastic observer of politics. It's generally not something I pay very much attention to. That has changed somewhat over the course of this Presidential election campaign. Back in 2000, I felt that the election of George W. Bush as President would lead to disaster. It hasn't been quite as bad as I feared (at least not yet--he's still in charge at least through the end of the year), but it also hasn't been very good. Since I feel so strongly that Mr. Bush should not be in office, I've been paying more attention than usual to this coming election.

It has not been a pleasant experience. Politics in this country bring out high emotion in some members of the populace, and Americans in the grip of high emotion can be an ugly thing. There is a nauseating amount of partisanship and vitriol on both sides. If it was focused solely on the candidates I would be more willing to accept it, although I still wouldn't like it. It isn't, though. Conservatives (i.e. "Republicans") label liberals (generally "Democrats") as evil and stupid, and vice versa. Very few people are willing or able to have civil discourse about politics without descending into empty rhetoric and name-calling. This is troubling for anyone who is actually interested in hearing different viewpoints or engaging in philosophical debate. It's almost impossible to do so.

Beyond that, there's the issue of trusting the candidates themselves. We've become extremely cynical about the honesty of politicians, and with good reason. You never know how much of a candidate's bluster is believable. Even if they sincerely mean to do the things they say, there's no guarantee that they'll be able to. That's just the nature of our government system.

I think this is a large part of why so many Americans are totally turned off by politics. The mess of vitriol and dishonesty makes for an unsavory situation. It can also make it really hard to choose a candidate. All politicians (indeed, all people) have weaknesses that can be attacked, and it can be hard to wade through the muck to find out exactly what it is that they stand for. I know I wouldn't be nearly as interested as I am if I didn't feel it was so imperative that someone other than Mr. Bush is elected in November.

Since one of the things I hate the most about the political process is all the negativity associated with it, I will do my best to refrain from disparaging Mr. Bush himself, or those who support him. Instead, I will present my own views on certain things, and in some cases I'll point out where I disagree with Mr. Bush's views or policies.

I want to start with the highly controversial topic of abortion, because it's an issue that really polarizes liberals and conservatives and comes up in every Presidential campaign. I have to admit I'm a little baffled by that. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that a ban on abortions is unconstitutional. The constitutionality of a law is not determined by who is in office, and that ruling has stood up to 32 years of review. A Presidential candidate may be able to affect the scope of abortion laws, but it seems to me that the central issue is a dead one. Abortion is here to stay.

There are a number of other issues that are tangentially related to this one, such as gay marriage. I'm a huge believer in respecting (or establishing) rights of minority groups, and this just irritates me. The push to ban gay marriage is nothing more than legislating bigotry, in my opinion. Letting gay couples get married has no bearing on the "value" of a straight marriage.

Both of these things in general boil down to a number of people who believe that their religious beliefs should be the law of the land. Many of these people equate religion with morality, which makes me sick. I'm an atheist, and I'm a good person. The two are not mutually exclusive. There are different world views, and someone else's perspective shouldn't be forced on society at large.

This is perhaps the biggest issue I have with Mr. Bush. It's great for him that he has this deep faith in God, but he needs to be able to separate that from his leadership of this secular nation. He has been known to equate the war in Iraq and the battle against terrorism as a "crusade," and that terminology just makes me cringe. That tenuous situation could turn into a holy war very easily, and that would make things that much uglier.

The situation in the Middle East is another reason I'm against Mr. Bush's re-election. I absolutely do not feel safer with him in charge. His "lone cowboy" actions have turned a lot of sentiment against us worldwide, and his needless invasion of Iraq is one more charge against the U.S. We were absolutely justified in going into Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and search for Osama bin Laden, but invading Iraq was overstepping our bounds. Without question, the world is a better place with Saddam Hussein out of power. That doesn't change the fact that our reasons for invading Iraq in the first place were based on falsehoods. It has been decided that the President did not deliberately lie about his reasons, but instead based them on false information. That does not change the fact that the invasion was unnecessary, or that we could have discovered that if he had been willing to wait for U.N. weapons inspectors to finish their job.

In terms of security, I think John Kerry will make a fine President. Now that we're embroiled in the mess in Iraq we can't just pull out and leave, but I trust that he has a vision and a plan for our strategy in that area. I also trust him to focus on homeland security and do what he can to ensure our safety as citizens. We'll never be completely safe; it's just a fact of life. However, I do think he'll put more efforts into diplomacy, which will hopefully make a difference in how the U.S. is viewed by the world. Some say that this "appeasement" will make us weaker as a country, but instead I think that diplomacy and solidarity is a sign of strength.

I also think Mr. Kerry will do a better job with the U.S. economy. It's been sliding again lately, and indeed the recovery that supposedly started never quite reached this area. It's sort of interesting that Democrats are seen as "tax and spend" liberals, whereas Republicans are supposed to be fiscally conservative. Despite that, President Clinton balanced the budget and left a surplus, whereas Mr. Bush has turned that into the largest deficit in history in less than four years. The largest amount of job growth has always taken place under Democratic administrations. Mr. Kerry's economic plan calls for a rollback on Mr. Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy, and a new tax cut for the rest of America. This makes sense to me as a good way to jumpstart the economy.

Aside from individual and civil rights, which I touched on earlier, the main reason why I tend to be liberal has to do with creativity. This is just a feeling, mind you, but it seems to me that liberal politicians have more respect for creativity than conservatives. Conservatives tend to promote schools of thought that encourage logic and analyical thought to the exclusion of creativity. There's a place for that, certainly, but I don't know that I want it to be the dominant point of view. There is definitely a place in schools for arts and music. These subjects make a person more well-rounded, which can only help throughout the course of a person's life, even in such endeavors as business and politics. Beyond that, I fully believe that these things are the cornerstone of a truly happy and successful life--the quote at the top of my blog says it all, as far as I'm concerned.

I know I haven't explained all of this as well or as in-depth as I could, but I really could drag this out to an even more unacceptable length if I let myself. Please e-mail or leave comments if something I said caught your attention, and I'll be happy to elaborate. Otherwise, I just hope that this missive has been thought-provoking at the very least.

(Oh, and if you're still for Kerry/Edwards!)

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